Land use planning : beyond rhetoric

Freeport 2015

 

There is a common thread running through a number of local land-use planning controversies: they are tending to either ignore or give secondary importance to environmental, social and/or cultural issues, focusing instead on economic considerations.

On this page I have discussed the impact of the Freeport Terminal on  Birżebbuġa a number of times. The basic problem with the Freeport is that its impact on the Birżebbuġa community were ignored for a very long time. In fact, an attempt to include a Social Impact Assessment as an integral part of the EIA which was carried out some years ago was given the cold shoulder by MEPA. The end result was that the decision-taking process was not adequately informed of the impact of the terminal extension, both those already apparent and those which were yet to come. In particular, no assessment was made of the disintegration of the sports infrastructure in the area that has  slowly been eaten up – primarily by the Freeport.

Most of this could have been avoided through an active engagement with the local community over the years at the various stages of the project’s planning and implementation. This is why plans for the Freeport’s expansion, as indicated by the Freeport Corporation’s CEO  earlier this week in an interview with The Business Observer, should be explained  immediately. Even at this early stage it must be ascertained that the situation for  Birżebbuġa residents will not deteriorate any further.

No one in his right mind would deny that, over the years, the Freeport has made a significant contribution to Malta’s economic growth. Few, however, realise that the price paid for this economic success has been the erosion of the quality of life of the Birżebbuġa community. This is certainly unacceptable but it will only get worse, once the gas storage tanker for the Delimara Power Station is parked within Marsaxlokk Bay in the coming months, very close to the Freeport terminal.

The same story is repeating itself in other areas. Consider, for example, the 38-floor tower proposed at Townsquare and the 40-floor tower proposed for the Fort Cambridge project, both on the Tignè Peninsula in Sliema. The Townsquare assessment process is reaching its conclusion, whilst the one in respect of Fort Cambridge is still in its initial stages. Yet both are linked to the same fundamental flaw: the lack of consideration of the cumulative impact of the development of the Tignè Peninsula – which includes the MIDI development as well as the individual small scale projects in the area.

The adoption of plans and policies which have made it possible for the authorities to consider the development of the Tignè Peninsula were not subject to a Strategic Impact Assessment and, as a result, the cumulative impact of implementing these plans and policies were not identified and assessed. The end result is that the proposed towers are justifiably considered as another disruptive and unwelcome intrusion by the Tignè and Qui-Si-Sana communities.

The developers and their advisors focus exclusively on the impacts which are generated by their proposals, with the authorities generally avoiding the consideration of the big picture at the earliest possible stage.

Preliminary indications from the proposed Gozo Tunnel and the Sadeen “educational” setup at Marsaskala/Cottonera are already pointing in the same direction. In both cases, the alternatives that were generally brushed aside are the very options that need to be examined in detail in order to ensure that the challenges that will be faced in 2016 and beyond have not been prejudiced by myopic considerations in 2015.

Planning failures have serious consequences on those of our local communities that have to bear the brunt of the decisions taken for a long period of time. These can be avoided if the authorities refocus their efforts and realise that the economy is a tool which has to be a servant, and certainly not a master.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 20 December 2015

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Id-dokument tal-MEPA dwar il-bini għoli: bla ma sar SEA

tall buildings

Id-dokument li ippubblikat il-MEPA riċentment dwar il-kostruzzjoni ta’ bini għoli kellu jkun soġġett għal stima ambjentali strategika, dak li normalment nirreferu għalih bħala Strategic Environment Assessment (SEA). Dan huwa studju, li l-Unjoni Ewropeja tobbliga li jsir dwar il-pjanijiet (plans) li jifformula Gvern u dan biex ikunu identifikati b’mod ġenerali l-impatti ambjentali u b’hekk dawn l-impatti ikunu jistgħu jkunu indirizzati minn qabel ma jinqalgħu.

Id-dokument tal-MEPA dwar il-bini għoli jidentifika l-lokalitajiet u l-parametri permissibli għall-iżvilupp ta’ bini għoli (bini ta’ iktar minn għaxar sulari) kif ukoll ta’ bini ta’ għoli medju (bini sa għoli ta’ għaxar sulari).

In-nuqqas tal-istima ambjentali strategika (SEA) joħloq dubju dwar il-validita’ tad-dokument ippubblikat mill-MEPA. Fi ftit kliem jeħtieġ li ssir din l-istima ambjentali strateġika (jiġifieri stima ambjentali dwar strateġija) u jekk jirriżulta li jkun meħtieġ għandu jkun hemm it-tibdil.

Din il-gwida dwar il-bini għoli (u bini ta’ għoli medju) li ġiet ippubblikata mill-MEPA hi immirata b’mod partikolari lejn ir-riġenerazzjoni ta’ siti b’bini dilapidat jew propjeta’ li mhiex użata biżżejjed jew b’mod adegwat u dan meta din il-propjeta qegħda barra miż-żoni storiċi, barra miż-żoni ta’ konservazzjoni urbana (UCAs) kif ukoll barra miż-żoni għal-prijorita’ residenzjali.

Sfortunatament iż-żoni identifikati huma kbar wisq. Dan hu fatt li huwa rikonoxxut mid-dokument tal-MEPA innifsu meta dan jgħid illi ser ikunu meħtieġa studji addizzjonali għall-applikazzjonijiet li eventwalment jidħlu.

Filwaqt li l-gwida tal-MEPA tidentifika l-istudji li ser ikunu meħtiega biex jiġu eżaminati l-applikazzjonijiet għall-izvilupp ta’ bini għoli jew ta’ għoli medju, l-parti l-kbira minn dawn l-istudji, inkluż kemm studji ambjentali kif ukoll il-kriterji stretti li huma meħtieġa kontra l-ħolqien ta’ dellijiet (shadowing) fuq il-propjeta’ residenzjali kellhom ikunu applikati qabel ma ittieħdu d-deċizjonijiiet dwar il-gwida tal-MEPA. Bħala riżultat in-numru ta’ lokalitajiet identifikati bħala ż-żoni magħżula kienu jkunu ferm inqas.

Id-dokument tal-MEPA kellu jkun iktar restrittiv u dan billi jillimita l-iżvilupp ta’ bini għoli jew ta’ għoli medju ghal dawk iż-żoni li jeħtieġu riġenerazzjoni. Dan kien ikun ta’ incentiv għall-industrija tal-bini biex din tassorbi u tiżviluppa mill-ġdid bini li għamel żmienu kif ukoll bini ta’ kwalita’ inferjuri li hu sitwat barra miż-Żoni ta’ Konservazzjoni Urbana (UCAs).